What is a thickness planer?
A wood planer, also called a thickness planer will help you to shave down various sizes of different materials so that you get a uniform thickness while both faces remain parallel.
Since they differ slightly in the way you use them, we’ll address that right now by breaking down 3 of the main categories of planer. We are disregarding hand planers since they are incredibly time-consuming and something of an anachronism today.
PORTABLE AND HANDHELD
A handheld and portable planer are very similar.
Most of these are pretty lightweight and can be carried or used with one hand. A few portable models look more like a scaled down benchtop planer.
These nifty little planers combine everything you love about the finesse of a hand planer with the advantages of a power tool.
If you have a very small workshop or you’re a home DIY enthusiast, these models make a smart choice. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to take them onto the job site if you want to carry out any small thicknessing jobs.
The drawback with this type of planer is sub-par accuracy. You won’t really be able to use a portable planer for fine finishing or ultra-precise woodworking. The price reflects this.
We’ve included some portable planers in our reviews since, despite their deficiencies, they are extremely versatile and useful pieces of kit.
Much bulkier than portable planers, benchtop planers are sometimes called thickness planers. They perform the same role as a handheld but need a flat surface to operate from.
The power generated by a benchtop unit means you’ll enjoy much deeper cuts and you can handle correspondingly higher thicknesses. Accuracy, precision and speed are the key selling points of benchtop planers.
Many of these planers could be transported from home to job site but they are obviously substantially bulkier and heavier than their pared-down counterparts.
If you have heavy planing requirements and you work with hard woods or own a professional workshop, there’s no substitute for a benchtop planer.
Although we are not reviewing any planer/thicknessers, we’re including them here to further clear up any lingering confusion…
The first couple of models we review below are termed thickness planers and this is not the same thing as a planer/thicknesser. These 2-in-1 units perform the role of a thicknesser but also allow you to joint wood as well. This is because what we call a jointer in the US is often labelled a plane elsewhere in the world. We don’t want to club you to death with this message but it’s crucial to get these differences clear in your mind. If not, you risk buying the wrong tool and facing bitter disappointment.
With the planer element of a planer/thicknesser, you can plane one of the faces and an edge straight ensuring that they are square with each other. The thicknesser makes sure the faces are parallel while also allowing you to get the stock to the thickness you require.
Depending on your personal taste, a planer/thicknesser is an innovative solution to 2 separate tasks rolled into a single unit.
First up, who needs a planer in the first place?
Who Needs Planners?
Woodworkers, home DIY enthusiasts and contractors alike would benefit from investing in the best planer.
A hand planer is too slow for most purposes. Also, unless you’re a highly skilled craftsman, you simply won’t get the accuracy you’re looking for either. A belt sander is not a replacement either when it comes to thicknessing your stock.
If you’re serious about woodworking in any guise, a thicknesser will give you fantastic control over otherwise irregular boards. You’ll be able to smooth out any rough stock, make certain that the faces are parallel as well, of course, as getting that uniform thickness.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in woodworking who wants to exercise control over the finish and thickness of their stock is well advised to lay in the best planer at the earliest opportunity. Combine this with a jointer and you can enjoy boards that are flat, smooth and straight as an arrow.
This is one purchase that you’re extremely unlikely to regret so read on for more handy hints on getting the best tool for the job…
The Complete Planners Buying Guide
We’ll now take you through 8 of the most important things to consider when you’re looking for the best planer.
Hopefully, by now, you’ll have all the terminology down-pat so you know exactly what you’re looking for in terms of functionality.
Once you’ve cleared this up in your mind, deciding on the type of planer should be fairly straightforward. By this stage, your options will already be narrowed considerably before you start in on research and testing.
Think about your budget and, again, your choices will be whittled down.
At this stage, it’s a wise move to read plenty of user reviews along with as much feedback as possible so you can double down on where your chosen models stand and fall.
Here is some general guidance to simplify your buying decision further and increase the chance you get the very best planer for your particular wants and needs…
The motor on a planer is one of the principal differentiators. Electric motors come in 2 variants:
– Induction Motors
– Universal Motors
As a rule, induction motors are more robust and durable. They also weigh much more than universal motors. This type of motor works best for planers that are permanently installed in a workshop or destined for industrial use.
Universal motors, lighter and more compact, are better suited for portable planers.
As well as considering whether or not the motor is powerful enough for your cutting needs, think also about the voltage and buy accordingly.
- Size of Your Workspace
It’s a good move to measure your workshop or the area where you’ll be using the planer first. You need to ensure you have adequate room to safely maneuver.
You’ll need to think about more than the size of the machine, though…
Pay attention to the amount of space you’ll need to move around and also factor in the length of the workpieces you’ll be dealing with.
Time spent at this stage will not be wasted if you avoid getting a bulky planer that’s simply too big for the allotted space.
Clearly, this does not apply if you’re looking to buy a portable planer. In that case, you’ll need to think about whether or not the planer you have in mind is light enough for you to use without straining yourself but heavy-duty enough to deliver the results you need.
- Type of Planer
Think carefully about whether you’ll need a thicknesser only or whether you also need the functionality of a jointer. If so, it’s well worth looking into a combined unit.
If you only require a thicknesser, mull over whether you need something you can carry around or whether you would prefer the hard-hitting performance of a stand-alone unit.
There’s categorically no right or wrong answer here so we can’t get much more specific. Only you know what you want from this piece of kit so simply roll with the type and style of planer that makes the best fit for your woodworking needs.
- Size of Your Workspace
- Thickness and Width
The thickness capacity is the greatest thickness your planer will comfortably accommodate. In our planer reviews, we clearly show these figures so think about the stock you’ll work with and give due consideration to the thickness capacity to prevent selling yourself short.
If you need to work with large volumes of extremely rough wood, there’s no sidestepping a planer cut out for use in an industrial setting. Go for something too lightweight and you’ll burn it out.
For anyone working with smaller projects, portable planers should provide adequate thickness capacity. Look also for the depth stops on planers. These will allow you to set your machine to the width you need without constantly stopping to measure.
- Stroke Count
The blades of your planer come equipped with knives. These knives rotate at high velocity and chip off wood from the surface of your boards.
More knives and a higher blade speed both translate to a greater stroke count.
What’s important to note here is that speed is not the be-all. In fact, with some material, slower is better. To this end, look for a planer with variable speed so you’ve got all bases covered whatever type of wood you choose to work with.
- Thickness and Width
- Do You Need a Jointer?
If you feel you’ll also need to make use of a jointer, our advice is to plump for a 2-in-1 planer/thicknesser.
We have not reviewed these combined units because it would have complicated things to introduce a tool with a separate function.
You can buy jointers separately, of course, but many committed woodworkers find the ease of a multipurpose tool repays the expenditure. Since they share many parts, buying a combined planer/thicknesser makes good economic sense.
Again, there’s no clear-cut correct answer here. Be honest about what applications you have in mind and choose in line with this.
The cutter on your planer will typically come with between 2 and 5 blades. The greater the number of blades and the quicker the speed, the higher the stroke count will be and the smoother the cut.
As a rule, carbide steel knives are the best option.
All the planers we review here have quality knives. These can make or break your planer so it’s well worth scoping out that they’re fit for purpose.
- Dust Collection
Keeping a dust-free workshop is critical if you want to enjoy top-tier results and remain safe at the same time.
When you are planing, a large amount of chips will be generated. It’s essential to hook up some form of dust collector or shop vac.
Many of the best planers have integrated fans that suck all the chips away from the cutter head. These will be blown out the dust port which is a useful touch if your planer is not in close proximity to the dust collector.
- Do You Need a Jointer?
Usage and Maintenance Tips
Using a planer is relatively straightforward.
You should adhere to all the safety precautions you’d normally consider when using any power tool. Wear eye protection and ear protection. Consider a dust mask to supplement any additional dust control you have in place. Make sure the workspace is adequately illuminated.
Before using your planer, think about the following:
- Are the knives correctly set for the depth and clearance you need?
- If there is a fence, is it securely in place?
- Can the guard move freely over the cutter head?
- Is your equipment properly lubricated?
Once you’ve addressed these points, it’s time to get to work!
Make sure the knives are sharp and balanced. Make certain you have plenty of clearance for the stock you’ll be using.
Use sufficient downward force to avoid the cutter head from pulling the stock from your hands.
Work slowly and methodically with your planer. You’ve invested in a first-class time-saving tool so don’t risk your safety and well-being by rushing. Remember the old adage, “More haste, less speed.” Take pride in your work and the results will be worthwhile.
Planers require remarkably little maintenance aside from regular lubrication and keeping an eye on the sharpness of the knives.
Keep everything free of dust and properly cared for and your planer should serve you for many happy years of woodworking.